MINISTERS allowed up to 10,000 travellers with coronavirus spread it across the country at the start of the pandemic by failing to bring in quarantine rules early enough.

That is the view of a group of MPs who accused of making "critical errors" over how it treated those arriving in the UK in March, leading to COVID-19 taking hold faster.

The “critical errors” included the “inexplicable” decision to lift all border restrictions in March, a cross-party Commons home affairs select committee said.

Committee chairman said that by lifting travel restrictions, "thousands of people" with coronavirus were allowed to enter the UK "at a time when they weren't being asked to self-isolate".

She says the move "had a significant impact and accelerated the pace and the scale" of Covid-19's spread in the UK, meaning "many more people" caught the virus.

Failing to catch "imported infection" left the country with a "far worse" experience of the disease, the committee found.

The Herald has previously revealed how ministers and their scientific advisers have come under increased criticism for continuing to support keeping open borders without health checks as thousands came through Scottish airports every week after lockdown.

In May new analysis revealed how South Korea kept fatalities to 1.2% of the UK's and 1.8% of Scotland's death rate with the help of strict controls over foreign visitors.

HeraldScotland:

Thousands of people at that point were still coming into the UK without any stringent checks as carried out in other parts of the world including airport tests and quarantining.

The Herald was told at that time that the UK Government's position had remained that quarantining of visitors through airports and ports "would not make a significant material difference" to curbing the spread.

The Herald on Sunday revealed at the end of April  that more than 8000 visitors a week were continuing to arrive in Scotland from home and abroad without health checks while the nation continues to be in lockdown and undergo social distancing in the coronavirus pandemic.

So far coronavirus has killed 46,299 people in the UK, and the ONS found recently England suffered the highest levels of excess deaths of any country in Europe over the first half of 2020.

The government said it has "followed the science" and that once sustained community transmission began, more border measures would have had "a very marginal impact on the epidemic within the UK".

But Ms Cooper said it was a "grave error" to have no quarantine policy in mid-March.

Drawing on evidence that “thousands of people with Covid-19 arrived in or returned to the UK in February and March”, the committee concluded: “The UK’s experience of Covid-19 has been far worse as a result of the Government’s decision not to require quarantine during March, which would have reduced the number of imported infections.”HeraldScotland:

Some 10,000 people with Covid-19 may have entered or returned to the country in March, the committee said.

It also cited a study referred to by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance which indicated more than 1,300 separate strains of the virus were imported largely from Spain, Italy and France during that period.

Ms Cooper said: “The Government’s failure to have proper quarantine measures in place in March as the infection was spreading fast was a grave error and meant Covid spread faster and reached more people.

“The UK was almost unique in having no border checks or quarantine arrangements at that time. That alone should have rung loud alarm bells for ministers and made them think again.

“Many times ministers told us they were following the science, but we cannot find any science at all behind their completely inexplicable decision to lift all the self-isolation guidance for travellers on March 13, a full 10 days before lockdown, just at a time when other countries were introducing stronger border measures.

“We were told that thousands more people with Covid-19 came back to the UK after that guidance was lifted. So in the middle of March, at a time when the number of people with Covid coming back into the UK was at its peak, they were going back to work or onto public transport or seeing family without any quarantine in place.”

The government's failure to provide scientific advice behind its decisions  was "completely unacceptable", the committee said.

"A large number of instances of the virus - up to 1,356 importation strains and up to 10,000 cases - were imported during the period leading up to, and following, the abandonment of special measures for international arrivals on 13 March," it added.

Several recommendations were made, including for ministers to investigate carrying out testing at the border - like Iceland, Hong Kong and South Korea.

And the government was also urged to publish a traffic light system to show rates of virus prevalence for different countries.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb defended the government, saying there was "very clear advice" at the start of the crisis for people to self-isolate when returning from infected areas such as Wuhan, Iran and Italy.

He said ministers have been "led by the science every step of the way in handling this pandemic".

A government spokesperson said in response that the committee was "incorrect in their assertions".

They continued: "All of our decisions throughout the pandemic have been guided by the science, with appropriate measures introduced at the right time to keep us all safe.

"And with passenger numbers significantly reduced, the scientific advice was clear that quarantine measures for those entering the country from abroad would be most effective when the UK has a lower level of infection.

"Therefore, as the virus was brought under control here, border measures were introduced on June 8 to protect public health and help avoid a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS."

They also pointed out to national "stay at home" orders applying to everyone, meaning there did not need to be an explicit policy just for travellers arriving in the UK.

Quarantine measures were brought in on 8 June for travellers from all countries - meaning anyone arriving in the UK had to self-isolate for 14 days.

Analysis at the start of April calculated that more than 130 countries had introduced some form of travel restrictions since the coronavirus outbreak began including screening, quarantine and bans on travel from high risk areas.

According to Pew Research Center analysis it meant at least 90 per cent of the global population lives in countries with restrictions on non-citizens and non-residents arriving from abroad, while 39 per cent live behind borders that were entirely closed to foreigners.

Just under two weeks before Boris Johnson ordered a UK-wide lockdown, UK government's chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty said Britain was not banning flights or screening passengers en masse who are returning from Italy as the measures do not “slow down” the spread of the Coronavirus.

He said the measures had failed to halt the spread of the virus in Italy, which had been among the first countries in Europe to impose them on passengers coming from China earlier in the pandemic.

And in  a 'how to control a pandemic' lecture at Gresham College he revealed his attitude to control measures over travellers and in airports in 2018, in discussing the nation's response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which claimed the lives of 457 people in the UK the previous year.

He admitted that that was a "near miss" and that it "could have been worse".

He added: "A whole bunch of interventions were called for, like screening at airports and banning travel which are utterly useless. Well, as close to utterly useless as makes no difference."